I remember the scene with the type of vivid detail that makes me suspect I’ve started filling in the blanks that inevitably occur as the years go by: I remember waiting in the lobby of my dorm hall, watching as the agreed upon meeting time came and went. I remember sending texts to the boy in question, asking him where he was (and this was back in the days when you had to tediously find your letters on a number pad in order to text). I remember the half-hearted excuse he would eventually send, hours after we were supposed to go out for dinner.
This would be the second time this particular boy stood me up. Just a week before, he had stood me up for a casual dinner date. When I confronted him about this, he gave me a matching set of flimsy excuse and flimsy apology – with an equally flimsy promise to make it up to me with a perfect Valentine’s Day date.
Looking back, I shouldn’t have been shocked that he would leave me stranded a second time.
But, then again, I’ve never been one to catch on quickly.
I remember returning to my dorm room – mercifully empty, with my roommate off on whatever Valentine’s Day adventure she had with her boyfriend – and bursting into tears. I was officially done with the treacherous, treasonous world of dating. I was sick of getting hurt, time and time again, by boys and their careless hearts. I was sick of my own little heart and all the ways it kept getting broken. I had other things I needed to focus on. I had a scholarship to maintain. I had plans to go abroad. It was time to put a moratorium on guys and love – for the remainder of the semester, potentially for the remainder of my college career.
Four days later, a scrappy MIT boy would hop into the empty theatre seat next to me, stick out his hand, and say to me:
“Hi! Would you like to be my new friend?”
I think back on that version of me: that 19-year-old girl who was serious about her moratorium – who, for the first time in her young life, had said, “Romance is the worst!” and didn’t immediately look around for a guy to prove her wrong. A 19-year-old who remained highly guarded of the MIT boy, expecting to never hear from him again, expecting the other shoe to inevitably drop. A girl who didn’t even believe him at first when he talked about where he went to college.
I think about 19-year-old me, and how she consistently gave the MIT boy every reason to drop things and run. A girl who didn’t want a relationship, who never wanted to get married. A girl who couldn’t be trusted to disclose the full story or even tell the truth if the truth could be construed as bad news. A girl who still thought romance was the worst, that boys were fascinated by her but would never truly be in love with her.
I think about the way that 19-year-old moved about the world, the way her behavior was motivated by something she didn’t have access to – and, in some ways, would continue to not have access to, not for another decade.
I think about 24-year-old me, getting married, even after saying things like, “Marriage is what people do when they want to make each other miserable.” I remember going into my own marriage still harboring that distaste and disdain for the institution – not yet getting that you can’t hold that contradiction for long without inevitably destroying yourself. That you couldn’t follow the guidelines while simultaneously hating them and not eventually kill off pieces of your soul.
I think about those past versions of me a lot these days. In many ways, life has been and continues to be a gigantic retrospective. Getting to the bottom of things in order to make necessary changes to those movements and motivations, before it’s too late.
I’m not the 19-year-old version of me. I’m not the 24-year-old version of me. I’m sure as hell not the 27-year-old version of me anymore. But, at the same time, I know that those versions are still a part of me – that their origin point is identical to mine. That it’s important to retrace the path back to the trailhead and see exactly where I went off the map.
I think about them as if they were a separate girl. In some ways, they are. I look back on old pictures and journal entries and feel like I’m being introduced to a distant relative. This is someone I should know well, and yet, I don’t.
I think about their mindsets and logic, and how it evolved over the years. I think about how it took everything blowing up all at once for her to finally wake up, to see the roots of all her behavior, to realize the way she had been blazing her trail forward had been completely unsustainable.
I think about how she shifted: how she went from the girl who wouldn’t even speak about her parents to the MIT boy unless it could be condensed into digestible, bit-sized chunks to the girl who would dump the consequences of such a chaotic upbringing in the MIT boy’s lap, as if to say, “I call your bluff. You’ll learn I’m too messed up to be loved.”
I think about the lowest points, when I’d lay the ugliest parts of my soul at his feet, revealing the demons I swore I’d be taking to the grave with me, and going, “You would be better off with anyone else but me.”
And I think about the strong and comforting reply, time and time and time again: “It’s a good thing I get to choose for myself what’s good for me.”
It makes me think of a line in a poem I saw online recently: In the end, his love roared louder than her demons.
This is not the relationship of two kids living on opposite sides of the Charles. Nor is it the relationship of two as-good-as-kids high off of honeymoon adventures and wedding debt. This isn’t the relationship that existed while my father was alive, when I thought I knew exactly how the future would play out, when I swore I knew exactly how I’d respond in every single situation. The same way life continues on with stops and starts, deaths and rebirths, things having given way, but having also created room for something new, something better. Another evolution in the constant shifting winds of life.
On Valentine’s Day of 2017, I’m eating homemade, heart-shaped mini-pizzas while watching an absurdly wonderful Michael Bolton special. I spend the evening cuddling into the MIT boy on our comically large sectional sofa, attempting to watch the pilot episode of a new show. I’m asleep within the first 10 minutes – the sound type of sleep that I only seem to get in the arms of that MIT boy. The same arms I would snuggle into on nights when insomnia would leave me hysterical with exhaustion. The same arms that found their way draping across my shoulder during that fateful night in 2006.
Why, yes, I would like to be your new friend.